Dec. 3, 2012. Following Appalachian State football head coach Jerry Moore leading the Mountaineers to a third straight national championship, an extensive profile was done on the High Country’s most popular coach in the February/March 2008 issue of High Country Magazine. Today, in honor of his final season and his legendary career, we are running that profile again. Enjoy!
Winning with Grace
The Man Behind ASU’s Astounding Success
Story by Anna Oakes
In neat, easy-to-read solid block letters, “IT’S GREAT TO BE A MOUNTAINEER!” leaps from the pages of memorabilia signed by ASU football head coach Jerry Moore, followed by a smooth, flawless signature, with all ten cursive letters of his name distinguishable. None of that squiggly line business.
Luckily for fans, Moore’s penmanship is bold and discernible, unblemished and precise—even painstaking. And it’s not just because he gets a tremendous amount of practice.
“My mother was a hard, hard charger,” Moore said, drawing a line of lowercase letter “a”s on a loose sheet of paper in his office. “I can remember if my handwriting wasn’t very good … if I did one that looked like that (he botched one of the letter “a”s) she’d get all over it. It was always that way. There was no in between—it had to be just right. Well, at that time, it just about bored me to death.”
His handwriting wasn’t the only thing his mother observed and corrected. Moore grew up in Bonham, Texas, about 80 miles northeast of Dallas, in an area he describes as a lot like Boone, with lakes and streams but “without the mountains.” The young Moore was extremely involved in sports.
“I was really, really, really involved in athletics,” he said. “When I was growing up in grade school, elementary school, I’d go sit on the curb and wait for the rest of the kids to come out and play. I was there at sun up. And I hated for the day to end.”
Moore’s father worked on the railroad at night, so it was his mother that attended most of his games.
“She was the most critical coach I had in any sport. If I wasn’t playing hard enough or if I wasn’t doing my best—‘cause she saw most of it,” he said. “I think being able to handle criticism is the mark of somebody who has a chance at being successful. Her criticism was always to make me better.”
Though Moore and his father didn’t have much time to do many father-son things together, the man nevertheless became an inspiration to his son through a strong work ethic and high standards.
“He expected and demanded that you do things right,” Moore remembers.
The strict discipline and high expectations of his parents have become central characteristics in his coaching style. “I like to see things done right,” he explains. “I don’t like to come up short on stuff.”
For Moore, it has paid off.
Moore has a 194-118-2 record in 26 seasons as a head coach, including jobs at North Texas and Texas Tech. His record at ASU is 167-70, and over the past three years, ASU’s record is 39-6.
After leading the Mountaineers to their third national championship title in as many years, the head coach has racked up an impressive list of accolades. In January, Moore won the American Football Coaches Association Football Championship Subdivision Coach of the Year award for the third year in a row, becoming the first coach in either the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) or FCS (formerly I-AA) to win the award in three consecutive years. He has compiled a long list of coaching awards, including nods from College Sporting News, FieldTurf and Howie Long and The Sports Network (2006 Eddie Robinson Award) and is a five-time Southern Conference Coach of the Year.
Moore is active with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the largest Christian sports organization in the nation recently presented him with its Grant Teaff Lifetime Achievement Award for being a Christian influence on the lives of student-athletes.
His coaching success has earned Moore national name recognition, with mentions on ESPN and other sports news networks, and his inspiring pep talks were featured in Under The Lights: Appalachian State — A Date With Destiny, a 60-minute documentary about the historic Michigan upset that aired on Fox SportSouth last fall.
Moore has come a long way since growing up in Bonham. In high school, he played football, baseball, basketball and track and field—“the only four sports we had,” he says. He played two of those sports—football and baseball–at the collegiate level at Baylor University. After playing baseball his freshman and sophomore years, Moore passed up the opportunity to sign with minor league baseball teams to concentrate solely on football. After completing his senior season as a wide receiver for the 11th-ranked Bears in 1960, he was among the nation’s top 10 in receptions.
The star receiver graduated with a degree in finance and economics, but he chose football as a career, beginning his first assistant coaching job at Corsicana High School in Corsicana, Texas, in 1961. But not before marrying his college sweetheart—Mineola, Texas, native Margaret Starnes, that May.
After a few years at Corsicana, Moore transitioned to the college level as an assistant coach at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. In 1973, he accepted a position at Nebraska, where he served as assistant coach and offensive coordinator under the leadership of head coach Tom Osborne—a man who taught Moore a great deal about effective coaching.
“A lot of my demeanor is probably patterned a lot after Tom,” said Moore. “I was with him seven years, and in that seven-year period I never, ever saw him or heard him raise his voice.
“I seldom hollar,” he continued. “In my mind, I like for our players to not see me … up and down. I like to stay pretty much along the same plane all the time. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have highs and lows, but I like for those guys to at least be able to read me. I think that’s one of the things that’s been a mainstay for us for 19 or 20 years now is that our players ought to know what to expect.”
It was difficult for Moore to leave Nebraska, as he and his family were quite happy there. But opportunity came knocking, and in 1979, Moore took his first head coaching job at North Texas. Two years later, Moore took the top job at Texas Tech, becoming the fourth head coach in eight years attempting to rebuild the program. His tenure there lasted from 1981 to 1985, when he was unexpectedly fired—a move that shocked the Moore family.
Moore spent the next several months outside of the football world—selling real estate—until Arkansas head coach Ken Hatfield offered him a position as a volunteer assistant coach. Moore was promoted to recruiting coordinator after a year, but Appalachian State needed a head coach, and in 1989 the Moore family was headed to the North Carolina mountains.
The first season with Moore at the helm saw the Mountaineers go 9-3 overall, including a victory over Wake Forest, and ASU earned a trip to the playoffs. In Moore’s 19 seasons as head coach, he has guided his team to the postseason 13 times.
The origins of Appalachian State football’s current achievements lie in the months prior to the 2004 spring practice. That was when Moore and his staff decided to transition from the I formation—the offense Moore had used for 15 years at ASU—to a no-huddle spread offense—one in which scrambling quarterbacks, such as Richie Williams and Armanti Edwards, thrive.
“When we switched, we didn’t intend to fully switch,” Moore said. “I wanted to change the tempo of the game.” He wanted to be able to employ a hurry-up offense in turnover situations; if ASU blocked a punt or intercepted a pass, the team could quickly attempt to capitalize.
The coaching staff spent time observing practices at West Virginia University and watching video footage of the University of Utah—two teams that executed the spread offense effectively, Moore said. The staff knew that if they wanted to learn the offense, they would have to devote their entire spring practice to it. So they did.
The players enjoyed the new scheme, and the coaches could see its potential. When the players came back for twice-a-day practices in August, they seemed to have a lot of fun with the spread offense, so the team stuck with it.
“We never went back to the I-formation,” Moore said. “So now, we’ve not huddled in three and a half years.”
But the transition didn’t reap immediate rewards for the team. The Mountaineers opened the 2004 season on the road at the University of Wyoming with a stunning 53-7 loss.
Moore said, “It was awful. They should have left us in Wyoming, it was so bad.”
Nevertheless, ASU stayed with it. The coaches stayed with the same plays, and the players started playing like they practiced. Everything started to fall into place. It was like learning how to walk, Moore said—“you have to fall a little bit to keep from wanting to fall.”
“It’s a little bit more of a hard-nosed offense than people might think it would be,” he said. “And I enjoy that. I don’t think you’re going to win championships if you can’t be a pretty hard-nosed football team.”
Although ASU gradually learned its new offense, the Mountaineers finished the 2004 season 6-5, the team’s lowest wins total in 11 seasons. Frustrated, a contingent of fans, alumni and supporters started to argue for a change in coaching personnel.
My, how things have changed. Unflinching, Moore followed the 2004 season with a 12-3 record in 2005 and the Mountaineers’ first trip to the national championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn. The rest, as we know, is history. And now, the ASU spread offense is heralded among the best in the country.
With the repeated success of ASU football has come a surge in game attendance at Kidd Brewer Stadium, providing the Mountaineers with one of the most formidable home field advantages in the Football Championship Subdivision.
ASU went from an average home attendance of 13,556 in 2004 to an average 27,080 in 2007—in a stadium built for 16,650. Sales of merchandise have shot through the roof, and this side of North Carolina—not just Boone—bleeds in black and gold.
“I think that’s a lot of the success we’ve had, has been the support we’ve had here,” says Moore. “It’s unbelievable.” With about 25,000 people going crazy in the stands, “How could you not want to play in an environment like that?” he added. He says it’s not uncommon for ASU to play games on the road with more of its own fans present than their opponents. And Moore says it definitely impacts the performance of his players.
“When we played Richmond [in the 2007 semifinal playoff game], it was like jet engines roaring,” Moore recalls. “Before they ever shot the fireworks off, it was loud, it was noisy. And it stayed that way for three and a half hours. It was a constant roar. And I really believe that it was louder here than it was at Michigan.”
Now, ASU’s coaches, staff and players are more in-demand than ever before. Each day, a stack of mail arrives at Owens Field House, including scores of items that fans send in to be autographed and sent back to them. It’s very time-consuming and almost too much for the ASU staff to handle.
Moore has spent as many as five nights a week traveling across the state and the Southeast, speaking at banquets, fundraisers, clinics and other engagements.
“You could be doing something every day,” he says. “I try to pick and choose. I don’t want to do anything that takes away from our program.” Moore remembers that after winning a conference championship under head coach Hayden Fry at Southern Methodist, Fry was pulled in just about every direction, and the team didn’t do as well the following year.
“I’ve kind of reflected back on that, in making decisions about what I do, and even what the staff does,” he notes. The staff is in so much demand that it could put on a clinic just about every weekend, but Moore tries to keep it within reason. Most importantly, he says, he wants the players and staff to see him around—to show them that they are No. 1 in his mind. But Moore seldom turns down an offer from churches or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, not because he feels obligated, he says, but because “I just think it’s a thing I want to do.”
After ASU won its third championship, and even before it did, the term “dynasty” started to stick. Moore laughs at the suggestion.
“We’re a long way from a dynasty,” he chuckled. “What’s a dynasty, to begin with? I don’t know of many dynasties.”
Looking ahead to next year, the humble coach is not too particularly fond of the “4 for Moore” slogan starting to gain traction, either. But as far as pressure goes, achieving the 3-Peat was it. It had never been done before. There doesn’t seem to be as much pressure to get four, he thinks.
Next season, Moore begins his 20th year as ASU’s head coach. In those two decades, Moore says he has never really considered retiring—not even after the 2004 season.
“Most coaches are going to be about as critical of themselves as anybody else, because we’re in as competitive of a business as there is,” he said. People will always second-guess you, but “you’ve got to do what you feel at that time. You have to do what you feel is right from the pulse of your team.”
Moore, 68, said he realizes he’s close to an age where most people are retired, but he has no immediate plans to do so.
“I’m going to coach as long as it’s fun and that I think I can make a difference. The day that I don’t enjoy coming here to the office and the day that I don’t feel like I’m making a contribution, then I don’t need to be coaching.
“I don’t have any certain number of games to win,” he continued. “If my life depended on it, I could not tell you how many games we’ve won here. I bet I couldn’t even come within 20 of it. That’s not important to me. What’s important to me is being the very best that we can be.”
When the time comes that Moore is ready to retire, he and wife Margaret plan to stay in the High Country—“well, unless they run me off,” he jokes. The Moores are active in their church, Mount Vernon Baptist, and have developed a circle of close friends. They still have family in Texas, but “this has sort of become home to us,” Moore says. “This is a great place to live.”
Until then, Moore is staying busy year round—recruiting, planning, coaching, traveling, and signing lots and lots of autographs. He’s become as much of a celebrity as any of his star players. He says there’s no telling how many things he’s signed since winning the third title in December. But for every piece of fan memorabilia he signs, “I try to write something. I don’t like to just write my name. If I write something on it, particularly for a young person, I want something that’s got some meat to it.”
Well, then… it’s a good thing his mother made him practice that handwriting.